Title

Thriving in ministry : investigating the impact of participation in wholistic clergy wellness incubator groups on clergy self-evaluation of wellness.

Date of Award

5-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry

Abstract

The call to serve God's people is an awesome responsibility and a tremendous privilege. The call requires a deep investment which challenges the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of clergy. Research and personal experience make evident that the demands and pace of ministry can threaten the wellness of pastors. Statistics reveal that clergy have above average rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression. These health realities can be devastating to the clergy person and to the communities they serve. This project is based upon my belief that lasting well-being can be achieved and maintained by integrating theological and biblical reflection, increased knowledge regarding wholistic health, and honest self-reflection. We found that participation in an incubator group which focused on these elements had a positive impact on participating clergy. Eight clergy volunteered to participate in the three-month experience. Participants shared five bi-monthly meetings and a two-day retreat which integrated peer support, focused lessons, and reading materials. The sessions and reading guided clergy in exploring components of physical wellness including nutrition, exercise, activity and sabbath. Components of emotional and relationship wellness, with an emphasis on family systems theory and differentiation, were also explored. The entire experience was undergirded by in-depth exploration of how our theology and biblical foundation guide our thinking and behaviors, which in turn impact our wellness. The project was evaluated both by project participants and by the project advisory team. Participants claimed the enhanced theological and biblical framework they developed for understanding and valuing their own wholistic health as the most valuable result. Participants also reported positive benefits from the peer relationships acquired, the involvement of supportive laity, and the curriculum provided by the leader. The outcome suggests that the development and implementation of incubator groups can be a positive investment for annual conferences and for other bodies who care about the wellness of clergy.